As you sit down and enjoy your Monday newspaper at a more leisurely pace than usual, it’s easy to imagine that an extended break would do wonders for your well-being and focus. Sabbaticals are no longer exclusively the domain of tenured college professors. Selected local law and accounting firms along with tech companies offer opportunities for paid and unpaid extended leave.
When our clients discuss sabbaticals they have taken, they get a faraway gleam in their eyes as if they are transported back to that time. They may have spent three months away from the workplace, but that time has had an outsized impact on the narrative of their lives and stories they share with family members. In short, the sabbatical was a way to slow the progress of time: a way to create years of memories in a few short months.
Most people don’t need to be convinced of its benefits. So our focus shifts to the more pecuniary details of time off: how does one afford it and how are you able to take a break without suffering permanent career damage? Consider these ideas for building a career break for yourself.
Build Financial Independence. When we talk about financial independence, most people gravitate toward the numerator in the equation. They think about how much in assets they need to accumulate to get to their “number.” For many, this number may be many hundreds of thousands if not millions. The most recent Census data from 2013 says the median net worth of households headed up by those with a bachelor’s degree was about $148,000, while those with graduate or professional degrees were close to $325,000. If you can build your net worth to above average levels, that will help you in your quest to take time off.
The denominator part of the equation is your spending level. The lower your “burn rate,” then the easier it is to take a self-designed sabbatical. Someone who has a net worth of $500,000 and annual spending of $50,000 will find funding time off easier than a household that needs $100,000 a year. This is where your savings rate becomes doubly virtuous. The more you save, the more financial independence you have. A higher savings rate also keeps your burn rate lower because you are living on less money by design.
Also you may be able to live more simply during your sabbatical than when you’re living a more conventional lifestyle. If you’re a homeowner, you can find renters that will pay much of your housing expenses while away. You may not need the same access to cars. You may also choose to spend your sabbatical in a place with a lower cost of living than Colorado. So if you’re spending $50,000 a year, you may be able to make adjustments to reduce your sabbatical spending by 30 percent or more. That could bring extended time off to within your grasp.
Seek Out Sabbatical Friendly Companies. As mentioned before, there are many companies that offer sabbaticals for long-tenured, valued employees. Local law firms such as Hutchison, Black, and Cook feature paid sabbaticals to attorneys and other staff, while Google offers extended unpaid leave. Tax and consulting firm PwC has partially paid sabbaticals, and builder David Weekley Homes has extended paid leave. While I haven’t found an exhaustive, updated list of sabbatical companies, yoursabbatical.com is a good starting place.
Take Advantage of Natural Transitions. Perhaps the easiest time to take a sabbatical is while transitioning from one career or education role to another. The gap year has become much more common for high school graduates before college. This gap year concept can extend to people admitted to graduate school while they’re working. Wrap up work a few months early before your studies. You’ll have the freedom of not holding down a job, with the comfort that your next step is firmly in place. Those who are moving from one job to another could ask their new employer to delay their start date. While this may not meet with their hiring needs, you may find out they are willing to wait for the right candidate.
Know Tricks of the Trade. Health insurance may be a big stumbling block when contemplating a longer sabbatical. If you’re under 26, you may have a parent who can cover you. COBRA benefits may be available if you leave your current employer. Finally, while it’s hard to predict the future of the ACA health insurance marketplace, currently guaranteed issue health insurance is available on the Colorado exchange and if your income is low, it can be heavily subsidized by premium tax credits.